I am interested on the following situation due to its importance in an academic setting (which makes question about it common on Academia SE):

Suppose I legally obtain some digital image created by somebody else (e.g., by downloading from a public website). I then show this image as part of a presentation for my talk during an academic conference. Attendees (including me) have to pay a fee or be invited to participate in the conference, i.e., the conference is not freely open to everybody. The talk is not recorded or broadcast; the presentation is not distributed.

My question is whether this situation falls in the domain of copyright, i.e.: Is showing an image in such a fashion something that is an exclusive right of the copyright holder (unless specified otherwise)? I am interested in the general international situation, e.g., the Berne Convention. Note that this is not about this action being allowed by exception (e.g., fair use) but about whether it falls within what is protected by copyright in the first place.

My research/thoughts so far

  • According to this summary of the Berne convention, the protected rights include:

    • the right to translate,
    • the right to make adaptations and arrangements of the work,
    • the right to perform in public dramatic, dramatico-musical and musical works,
    • the right to recite literary works in public,
    • the right to communicate to the public the performance of such works,
    • the right to broadcast […],
    • the right to make reproductions in any manner or form […],
    • the right to use the work as a basis for an audiovisual work, and the right to reproduce, distribute, perform in public or communicate to the public that audiovisual work [4].

    The only point that I can think of covering the action in question, is the last one, if the presentation is considered an audiovisual work that is performed in public, but that does not seem to be the intention of this point to me.

  • Looking into the convention itself, the only applying paragraph (if any) seems to be Article 11bis, 1 iii:

    Authors of literary and artistic works shall enjoy the exclusive right of authorizing:

    (iii) the public communication by loudspeaker or any other analogous instrument transmitting, by signs, sounds or images, the broadcast of the work.

    I wouldn’t call the action in question “transmitting the broadcast of the work” though.

  • If the action in question would fall within the domain of copyright, so would showing my desktop background before I launch my presentation.

  • I would have said the seventh protected right: "the right to make reproductions in any manner or form..." covers what you're trying to do. Even if downloading from "a public website" does not fall foul (without explicit permission), reproducing the image (in your presentation) and broadcasting it (on the screen) would.
    – TripeHound
    Jun 20, 2017 at 11:34

2 Answers 2


Here's where you went wrong legally:

Suppose I legally obtain some digital image created by somebody else (e.g., by downloading from a public website).

That, right there, is copyright infringement- unless the copyright owner has granted permission or the image is public domain you cannot copy it - this breaches "the right to make reproductions". By posting it on the web (assuming that it isn't itself an infringing copy) they have given implied permission for you to look at it in a web browser but not to copy it into a presentation even if that presentation is never presented. If it is presented then that makes the infringement worse - it adds breaches of "the right to communicate to the public" and "the right to use the work as a basis for an audiovisual work".

How is this different from the computer wallpaper? It isn't. If you are using the one of the defaults that shipped with the OS then the license gives you permission. If you are using someone else's copyright without permission then it's a breach.

There are defenses to copyright infringement but these are quite nationally variable - search this or other sites for "fair dealing" and "fair use".


Yes, the poster above is correct about the important moment being that at which you downloaded the image. All you need to do, however, is find a photo with the right license. Public domain is obviously the easiest to use, but I know they can often be the toughest to find (depending what you need an image of). Wikimedia Commons and Flickr are good places to start. You can search images by license type at both. Usually the most onerous thing you’ll need to comply with is putting a small font blurb under the pic indicating where you got it from and giving credit to the person who owns it. I trust that measure is not overly burdensome for anybody giving a presentation.

  • I am fully aware of this, but that’s not what I was asking for.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jun 24, 2017 at 16:31
  • @Wrzlprmft More simply put: it’s covered.
    – A.fm.
    Jun 24, 2017 at 16:33

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